The Literary Structure of Isaiah 1–66: Eleven Infographics

concrete building

For the last two months, I have preached through the book of Isaiah, one section at a time. In all, that made for seven sermons and seven sermon handouts. In attempting to capture and communicate the message of Isaiah, I looked for the literary structures of Isaiah. First, I looked at the big picture of the book. Next, I considered each section. And last, I tried to see the branches on the trees, that are found in the glorious forest of Isaiah.

For each sermon, I put them together in infographics that look something like the stairs pictured above. What follows then are eleven screen shots of the book of Isaiah. They follow a basic chiastic structure for the whole book (see below), and each attempt to show the dramatic arc of judgment and salvation in each section, even down to the ten oracles of Isaiah 13–24.

Isaiah 1–12

Isaiah 13–27

Isaiah 28–35

Isaiah 36–39

Isaiah 40–48

Isaiah 49–54

Isaiah 55–66

As I went through Isaiah, I found help from David Dorsey, Alec Motyer, Barry Webb, Peter Leithart, the Chiasmus Xchange, and others. And for those who look at these outlines, I am sure that much more could be done to show the literary connections of the book, both at the micro- and macro-levels. But for now, I leave these outlines here, in hopes they may serve you as you read, study, or preach Isaiah. 

If you have further reflections and/or insights into this glorious book, please share them in the comments. At the bottom, I also linked to the seven sermons that arose from these outlines. May these graphical outlines be a source of encouragement and help as you hear the voice of God in Isaiah. Continue reading

Worshiping Christ at Christmas: Two Christmas Sermons (Isaiah 60 and Matthew 2)

three kings figurines

This year, Christmas Day afforded the church a double blessing. Each Lord’s Day, the saints gather to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. And on that day, the first day of the week, the day of new creation, we (God’s new creations) bear testimony to the world that Jesus Christ is Lord.  This we do every Sunday, in order to worship God and bear witness to his gospel.

This year, however, with Christmas on the Lord’s Day, we also gathered to declare that Jesus Christ, the Lord, is born. Indeed, Christmas is the holiday that reminds us of the Lord come to earth, such that those of earth might come to heaven. Wonderfully, our church gathered twice in less than 24 hours to rejoice in all that Christ is and has done.

On Christmas Eve, we gathered to meditate on what it means that the Magi came to worship Christ, the king of the Jews (Matt. 2:1-12). Then, on Christmas morning, we gathered again to see how the Magi’s gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 60. Indeed, Isaiah tells us that light has come into the world (vv. 1–3) and that light will one day engulf creation (vv. 19–22)—a prophecy that Revelation 21–22 picks up and applies to the new creation. In between the first coming of the light (in Christ’s birth) and its final establishment (in the new creation), we can continue to see how the light of God is coming into all the world, as the nations come to Zion and worship the Lord.

Those were the themes of our Christmas celebration. And I share the sermons below, so you might be able to dwell on these glorious truths. You can also find a pair of theological reflections on Isaiah 60 here and here. And if you need more Christological gold, take a look at what Christ Over All has published this month—Christology at Christmas. These essays are some of the best things I’ve read on the meaning of Christ and Christmas.

Come and Worship the True King (Matthew 2:1–12)

Let Us Come to Zion and Worship Christ (Isaiah 60)

Indeed, Christmas is one day behind us, or 364 days ahead us, if you are already counting. But the realities of Christ’s Incarnation, as well as his Lordship, abide year round. Therefore, may we continue to worship the Lord who was born in Bethlehem and the Lord who now reigns in Zion.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by Jonathan Meyer on Pexels.com

The Servant-King Who Brings Peace to Earth: An Advent Message on Isaiah 49–54

three kings figurines

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
­­– Isaiah 53:4–5 –

I heard the bells on Christmas Day / Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet / The words repeat / Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come, / The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along / The unbroken song / Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way, The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, A chant sublime / Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

These are the opening words to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow famous Christmas song, “I Heard the Bells on Xmas Day.” You’ve probably heard it, but if not I’d recommend the version by Caroline Cobb + Sean Carter. At the same time, you may not know the story behind the song, but it’s worth the telling.

Continue reading

Faith, Hope, Love, and a True Savior: Four Questions of Life and Death (Isaiah 36–39)

Seed of the Woman 1024x1024

Faith, Hope, Love, and a True Savior: Four Questions of Life and Death (Isaiah 36–39)

In Isaiah, the middle of the book presents us with a series of questions: Will you trust God when you are under threat? Will you turn to God when your life is in peril? Will you see God’s discipline as an act of love? And who is the king that can save you?

Truly, the book of Isaiah is not only one that foretells the coming of the messiah. It is also one that calls us to trust in the God who promised to send his Son as our messiah. In the events of Hezekiah’s life, which take center stage in Isaiah 36–39, we find an example of how one man trusted God and then failed to trust God. Indeed, Isaiah 36–39 is both a living parable for believers and a series of historical events that moves the story along in Isaiah’s long book.

On Sunday I preached a sermon these four chapters, complete with a spiritual parable about squirrels. If you are looking to learn how to have faith, hope, and love in the midst of hard times, this sermon may serve you well. In looking at Hezekiah’s faith and folly, we learn how to trust God and how to look for the greater king to come, the son of David who is greater than Hezekiah, the greatest of Israel’s kings (2 Kgs. 18:5).

Indeed, during this advent season, we continue to walk through Isaiah’s Gospel in order to see God’s plan of salvation. And in God’s plan of salvation, we not only find the promise of a king who will save his people (Matt. 1:21). We also find instructions for how the people of God shall respond to this Savior-King. To that end, you can listen to this sermon on Isaiah 36–39 to see how God calls us to trust him even when it costs us. This handout on Isaiah 36–39 may also help you to see what is in the text.

Until next time, let us continue to proclaim Christ from all Scriptures in order to make disciples of all the nations.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Trust in the Lord, the Promises of God Incarnate (A Sermon on Isaiah 28–35)

Seed of the Woman 1024x1024With Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas Carols upon us, the holiday season is now here. And with the holidays comes the making of many lists.

Santa has his list. And I am sure many readers of this blog have theirs. Whether it is a list of things to get done for Christmas or a list of this to wrap up before the new year comes, lists are a part of life. And lists can be all sorts of things.

They can be harmful, if your list is filled with grudges. Or, they can be helpful, if they help you remember all that your need to do. And they can even be misunderstood, if they are intercepted and read out of context.

Recently, my daughter found a list of family names with corresponding items under each. Still learning how to read, she thought it was surely a list of Christmas presents. But actually, when examined, this list contained all the school work to be done before Christmas. Such are the ways of lists. They can help, but they can also mislead.

In fact, lists can have negative consequences when we read the Bible. If you haven’t noticed, Scripture is not written in list form. Oh, it has lists. The first eleven chapters of Genesis contain two of them; they are called genealogies. Likewise, throughout the Bible, you can find lists of names, places, treasures, and laws. In short, the Bible is not against lists; it’s just that, on the whole, the Bible is not a list.

Resultantly, when we grind the Bible into list form, as many sermon-makers are quick to do, we run the risk of missing its message. Even more, when we turn the Bible into lists, we often miss the Messiah!

That said, there are times when it is helpful to put the truths of Scripture in list form. Systematic theologies do that, as do many sermons. And though I think the listicle sermon often misses the shape of the text, there are times for it. And this Sunday was one of them.

After riding an airboat through Isaiah 1–12 and a helicopter over Isaiah 13–27, I offered a sermon with four encouraging truths from Isaiah 28–35. Without abandoning the literary structure of the text, I focused on the applications that came from these eight chapter. To find those applications of the gospel, you can listen to the sermon here. You can also find the literary structure of Isaiah 28-35 here.

So far, preaching Isaiah 1–35 has been a challenge, but it has been a happy challenge, as it has forced us to see how the whole book fits together and leads us to Christ. Truly, Isaiah is glorious book, so let’s keeping reading it. And as you do, I pray these sermons may help you as you read.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Salvation and Judgment From Zion to Zambia: An International Comedy (A Sermon on Isaiah 13–27)

Seed of the Woman 1024x1024

Salvation and Judgment From Zion to Zambia:
An International Comedy (Sermon Audio for Isaiah 13–27)

Sermon Handout: Isaiah 13-27 PDF Slides

Has the Bible ever made you mad? Have you ever stopped reading the Bible because you couldn’t understand it? Are there parts of the Bible that you have avoided because they are too difficult to comprehend? To each of these questions, I can offer an affirmative response, with illustrations to prove it.

For instance, a number of years ago Isaiah 13–27 was one of those places. Or rather, it was somewhere in Isaiah 13-19. Reading those chapters, with their endless judgments against ancient foreign powers, I got frustrated and put the Bible away. Looking for a word of encouragement, the endless oracles made no sense.  After all, what do Philistines and Moabites have to do with me? As it turns out, there are lots of ways that God’s judgment on these nations applies today (see Rom. 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:16-17), but it took some time to see it.

Fast forward two decades from the time I closed the book on Isaiah 13–19, and I can say that these chapters are some of the most exhilarating in the Bible. But such exhilaration requires learning how to read them on their own terms. And on Sunday, that’s what I attempted to do as I preached Isaiah 13–27.

Based on literary clues in the text, we find that Isaiah 13–27 is a single unit, broken into three main sections, maybe four (13-19 / 20 / 21-23 + 24-27). Accordingly, to hear the message of this section (1 of 7 in the book), requires listening to the whole thing. Just as understanding The Count of Monte Cristo requires reading beyond the imprisonment of Edmond Dantès, so too these chapters must be read from beginning to end—-just as the whole book of Isaiah must be read to understand its good news.

Indeed, while stretching for the preacher and the listener, I attempted on Sunday to show how this whole section hangs together and offers an international comedy. Moving from the bad news of God’s judgment on wicked nations to the good news of salvation offered to a remnant from all nations, I showed how these 15 chapters work together to bring us hope for a glorious future.

If you are interested in hearing how this all goes, I would encourage you to begin with last week’s sermon on Isaiah 1–12 here. (Don’t miss the Isaiah 1-12_Handout). And then with another set of Isaiah 13-27 notes in hand, you can listen to this week’s sermon on Isaiah 13–27 here. All told, it is my hope to preach Isaiah in 7 sermons. So stay tuned for an ongoing overview of this glorious book.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

The Ripple Effect of the Resurrection: How Resurrection Shockwaves Produce Unshakeable Faith (A Sermon on John 11:45–12:11)

john03

The Ripple Effect of the Resurrection: How Resurrection Shockwaves Produce Unshakeable Faith (A Sermon on John 11:45–12:11)

When Jesus died and rose again, rocks cracked open, tombs emptied, and creation shook. As Matthew reports it, there was an earthquake associated with Christ’s death and resurrection. And that earthquake not only shook creation, it also raised the dead. As Matthew 27:52 says,

The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised,  and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.

While this resurrection of the holy ones is mysterious, it shows the power of God to change the world  and to change a life. Death is not the final word to God, because God has the power to put death to death. And in Christ’s resurrection, this what he did and is still doing to those who he raises to life today (see Eph. 2:5)

Not surprisingly, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, it also sent shockwaves into the world. First, it touched the lives of Mary, Martha, Lazarus, as well as those who saw Lazarus raised. Then quickly, news of Lazarus resurrection went viral. Just as God intended, Lazarus’s illness did not result in death  but in the glory of God (John 11:1–6).

Indeed, as God’s glory spread like a light over Jerusalem, it began shake the city. Jesus’s light began to give illumine believers and expose unbelievers. Just like the rest of Jesus’s ministry in John, news of this resurrection served to separate light from darkness and faith from unbelief. More exactly, Jesus’s seventh sign served as the climactic event that would lead to his death. Indeed, Lazarus’s resurrection had such a powerful effect  that everyone in Jerusalem was forced to take a side—Will you trust Jesus? Or will you reject him?

In fact, that’s the whole point of John’s Gospel and the point of the passage before us (John 11:45–12:11)—namely, to give us an unshakably faith by way of Christ’s resurrection shockwaves. Or to put it the other way round, the shockwaves of the resurrection produce unshakable faith.

Consider how this works: when we come to John 11:45 we are immediately confronted with the effects of Lazarus new life. In John 11:1–16 we have the set up for the resurrection of Lazarus. In John 11:17–44  we have the resurrection itself. And now in in John 11:45–12:11, we have the shockwaves of the resurrection.

As verses 45–46 indicate, these shockwaves do one of two things—they either produce faith or hostility. Notice the contrast here: “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.”

Already in John, we have seen this kind of separation. Jesus does something—e.g., he heals the sick or he feeds the 5,000—and people must make a decision. Will you believe on him, or not? And now, Jesus is at it again. Only now he has raised someone from the dead and has performed his seventh sign within ear shot of Jerusalem.

On Sunday this is what I preached, as I showed from John 11:45–12:11 how Christ’s power to raise the dead gives us a firm foundation on which to build our faith. You can listen to the sermon here. And you can see a bit more on the passage here.

As we remember the resurrection power of Christ, may we have confidence in him to secure us and save us even from all the deadly threats that surround us.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

The Resurrection and the Life: How Jesus Raises the Dead (A Sermon on John 11:17–44)

john03

The Resurrection and the Life: How Jesus Raises the Dead (A Sermon on John 11:17–44)

John’s Gospel is written so that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:31). And in John’s Gospel there are many ways eye-witnesses testify to Christ and many other ways John shows followers of Jesus coming to and growing in faith. In fact, John 11 is one of the key places where believers are pressed to believe and to believe more deeply.

For all Christians, there is a need to grow in faith. While God grants spiritual life and Christ-centered faith, living faith cannot stagnate. It must be exercised in order to grow. Even more, what faith God has given for today will not carry us into tomorrow or for the next ten years, unless it grows. Accordingly, we need daily grace for growing faith.

Wonderfully, God delights to uphold the faith of his saints. He who gives us faith in the new birth also gives us strength to keep believing. And Sunday’s sermon, I showed from John 11 how God grew the faith of Martha, Mary, and many others, as he raised Lazarus from the dead.

You can find the sermon here. You can also find last week’s sermon on John 11:1–16 here. I pray it may strengthen your faith as you continue to trust in the one who is the resurrection and the life.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Don’t Take the Bait: Three Reasons Pastors Must Avoid The Booby Trap of Pulpit Plagiarism

FM-mini-series-4x6-covers-768x1152

Earlier this year, Founders Press released my book Brothers, We Are Not Plagiarists. When it released Dave Jenkins at Servant of Grace asked me to write a related piece for his online theological magazine, Theology for Life. Here’s that piece, which likens plagiarism in the pulpit to a booby trap—an unseen explosive device that does untold damage to the un-expecting.

Let the reader understand, plagiarism in the pulpit is a big deal in the church. Since writing my book, I have received multiple emails reporting it, which only increases in my mind the need to address this subject. It is with sadness that I have received these reports. Yet, such incidents only reinforce the need for this book and for churches to dismantle the dangerous practice. May the Lord help pastors and churches do just that, and may this shorter article show why pulpit plagiarism matters so much.

********

Dad, what is a booby trap?

Recently, in conversation with one of my sons, the subject of guerilla warfare came up, which in turn led to explaining how booby traps have often been used in war. Because my son has not seen the classic primer on booby traps, the 1980s treasure-seeking adventure Goonies, I proceeded to explain some of the ways booby traps worked in during the Vietnam Conflict.

Speaking outside my area of expertise, I cobbled together some explanation that passed for the time. If I had to speak further on the subject, a quick Google search might lead me to a Field Army Manuel like this one. And in this case, I would share with my son the following facts that I learned from Chapter 13: Booby Traps and Expedient Devices. I’d also share the fact that I am quoting.

From the world wide web, we discover that booby traps

  • Are usually explosive in nature.
  • Are actuated when an unsuspecting person disturbs an apparently harmless object or performs a presumably safe act.
  • Are designed to kill or incapacitate.
  • Cause unexpected, random casualties and damage.
  • Create an attitude of uncertainty and suspicion in the enemy’s mind, thereby, lowering his morale and inducing a degree of caution that restricts or slows his movement.

Now what do booby traps have to do with preaching?

The answer is that booby traps are an apt illustration for plagiarism in the pulpit. Continue reading

How Sheep Get Saved: Jesus as the Door, the Good Shepherd, and the Sovereign Sacrifice (A Sermon on John 10:1–21)

john03How Sheep Get Saved: Jesus as the Door, the Good Shepherd, and the Sovereign Sacrifice (A Sermon on John 10:1–21)

In Luke 15 we come across a parable told by Jesus, directed at the Pharisees, where a shepherd leaves his ninety-nine sheep to go save the one lost sheep. In that parable Jesus says something about himself and the lost sheep he has come to save. Even more, in that parable, Jesus speaks against the Pharisees who have refused to find the lost sheep. Simultaneously, he reveals the kingdom he is bringing, a kingdom filled with lost sheep, now found by Christ.

Just in case you have not read Luke 15 in a while, here it is again.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

In Luke’s Gospel everyone agrees this is parable. Jesus is using sheep to speak about the conditions in Jerusalem, which he was going to change soon.

In John 10 we have a similar parable, though the word parable (parabolē) is replaced by the word “figure of speech” (paroimian, v. 6). Ironically, many who read Jesus’s words in verses 1–6 do not recognize the parabolic nature of Jesus’s language. Instead, they see his words about the sheep as a mere illustration or metaphor. But in so doing, these commentators miss the context of Jesus’ sharp words.

So let me begin by saying that on the last day of the Feast of Booths, Jesus addresses his adversaries, the ones seeking to kill him, and he tells a parable that describes God’s coming judgment on the temple courts of Jerusalem. At the same time, his parable identifies Jesus as the only Savior who can lead his sheep away from this impending disaster.

This is the context of John 10:1–6, and in these six verses, we find at least three reasons for reading this passage in this way.

First, Jesus is not speaking to shepherd-peasants. He is speaking to the leaders of Jerusalem (9:40–41). As we read in John 8–9, Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees who were leaders in Israel. And as John has shown from the beginning, when Jesus drove out the traders from the temple (John 2:13–22), Jesus is bringing a message of judgment against such false leaders.

So, as Jesus speaks here, he is not speaking literally about sheep and pens, he is using a figure of speech to condemn the shepherds in Jerusalem. And this is the second reason I don’t see vv. 1–6 as mere illustration. In verse 6 Jesus tells us how to interpret his words: “This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.”

So Jesus’s opponents don’t understand his words. And like all the parables Jesus told, this was the purpose. The reason Jesus spoke in parables was to reveal and conceal, to save and judge. And so here, Jesus’s sheep hear his voice, but his enemies will be confounded. And this was as it was designed by God.

So again, Jesus is speaking to the false shepherds of Jerusalem, and second he is speaking in a parable to them. But then, third, Jesus is speaking of events foretold in the Old Testament.

That is to say that when Jesus spoke of shepherds, sheep, sheepfolds, and strangers, we was digging into a rich tradition of biblical imagery and biblical prophecy. As we read in Ezekiel 34, the reason why God brought judgment on Jerusalem was largely a result of shepherds fleecing the sheep and failing to protect the flock.

So too in Jesus day, the Jewish leaders were not protecting the flock from sin but were robbing them and defiling God’s house. And accordingly Jesus came with this figure of speech aimed directly at the priests. In short, it is a word filled with warning.

At the same time, it was a word filled with hope and salvation for those sheep who have ears to hear. In fact, as John 10 continues, Jesus explains further how he will bring salvation to his sheep, even as the judgment comes. And for those today seeking to find salvation, shelter, and security from a world under threat of God’s judgment, this chapter is filled with gospel promises.

On Sunday, our church considered these promises and what it means that Jesus is the Door (John 10:7, 9), the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14), and the Sovereign Sacrifice—the Son who had authority to lay down his life and take it back up again (John 10:17–18). Indeed, these are just some of the truths found in John 10:1–21 and you can hear the whole sermon here.

May the Lord continue to open the ears of his sheep, so that they are led from the courts of destruction to the eternal courts of God. This is the promise of John 10 and one we need today.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds